Sunday, September 4, 2011

Photography Gear I Never Travel Without

My interest in travel photography developed only recently. I first discovered it when a few friends and I went to Puerto Galera in Mindoro, Philippines, back in 2007. Not the most scenic place, I know, but it did give me my first scenic sunset. The following year, when the same group of friends went to beautiful Bohol island, I knew I was hooked. I hijacked my friends' point-and-shoot cameras (again) and started shooting. I fell in love with the whole process: beholding an amazing scenery, appreciating it, and as my travel partner Angelica says, you eventually start clicking away producing good photos.

Puerto Galera
The moment I fell in love with travel and photography

Ever since then, I made it a point to bring my own camera when I travel. I've since changed cameras and various other camera gears. However, after my trip to China early this year, I think I have found myself the right set of gears—my best set of troops with whom I am entrusting the task of documenting my travels. Disclaimer: From here on out in this post, I will be geeking out on photography. But I think those who are thinking of getting a camera and photography gears or those with a growing interest in photography may find value in this post. So there.

By Bill Bertram | CC BY-SA
1. Nikon D90 Camera

I knew when I bought this late last year that this may be the last camera I will be using for a long time. And that's something coming from me. I;ve bought and sold two cameras in the last four years before I got myself this mid-level Nikon camera. Buying this, I knew I have found my match. It's not entry-level and it's not professional-level. Just right, I think. It has the right amount of bells and whistles. This means, it does not exactly treat you as a beginner but it still assists you as you make your way deeper into photography. And if you google reviews for it, you will find out that many agree that this may be Nikon's best DSLR ever.

2. Nikon 18-200mm Superzoom Lens

Blue Moon New Year 2010
Once in a blue moon

First things first, the "18-200mm" part refers to the focal length of a camera, the "zoom" of a camera. The wide side is the 18mm, the telephoto side the 200mm. It's called a superzoom because it covers a huge focal length: wide to telephoto. With my Nikon D90, I carry a Nikon 18-200mm superzoom lens attached. I opted not to get the kit lens that the Nikon D90 normally has on it, the Nikon 18-105mm, because of this lens's dismal reviews online. I couldn't have made a better decision! The Nikon 18-200mm was worth the extra bucks. I've had another superzoom before—the Sigma 18-200mm, but it wasn't as great as I wanted. I liked it, sure, but its sharpness wasn't doing it for me. I cannot make the same complaint, or any complaint for that matter, about the Nikon lens. Even if it has a bit of weight on it, I'd gladly carry it around on my travels.

3. Small Prime Lens

Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Everyone loves a good bokeh.

A prime lens is a lens with a single focal length (ex. 35mm, 50mm, 85mm) as opposed to a zoom lens which covers a range of focal lengths (ex. 18-55mm, 50-200mm). I like carrying one of this around because it is so useful. When I was still using a Canon, I had the 50mm F1.8. When I got my D90, I got the 35mm F1.8. They are extremely versatile, especially in low-light conditions, like say, when going out at night in your travels. It proved very useful to help me capture Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap’s night life. They’re great with portraits, too! I mean, you could not make a mistake with this kind of prime lens. The best part is, they are cheap, well, relatively cheap. But worth every penny.

4. Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filter

Port, Honda Bay
The GND filter kept the sky correctly exposed on this one.

A GND Filter helps you control the differing light levels in your shot. This is especially useful for landscape photographers because in a landscape, the sky is almost always brighter than the ground. Without a filter, you either get an overexposed sky or an underexposed ground in your shots. So, in order to compensate for these differing light levels, you place a GND Filter in front of your lens. The upper part of the filter (the part where the sky is) is darker than the lower part (the part where the ground is). Thus, it gives you well-lit composition.

I once read in a photography magazine that this type of accessory is crucial to any self-respecting travel photographer. As I like to pretend that I am one, I got myself a GND Filter. Honestly though, I don't use it that often. However, if I need it and when I use it, it can prove very useful. I used it the most when I was in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. The sky was too cloudy to give enough light on the ground. Yet, if I take my shot, the sky still appears overexposed. The GND Filter proved my life-saver here.

5. Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL) Filter

Great Wall, Mutianyu
Bluest of the bluest sky. People tell me that's quite rare in China.

I will not pretend to know how to explain how a CPL Filter works. It's too scientific, to say the least. But if you would indulge, please read this very technical Wikipedia page. The gist of it all: it can reduce light reflected on your subject, like say, the amount of sunlight reflected on the surface of the sea, and it can saturate the color of the sky. Thus, it gives you a photo with really deep, brilliant colors. This is why I love my CPL Filter. I love really strong contrasts and intense colors in my photos. Which is why my CPL Filter is almost always attached to my lens.

There you have it. These are the photography gears I cannot travel without and they will most likely be the same things I will be bringing in my RTW starting next month. As a final note though, I would like to say that you do not need all these gears to take great photos. The most basic DSLR would definitely be enough for any travel photography enthusiast. However, as I like playing with stuff, experimenting here and there, I got myself these gears. To each his own definitely applies here. Another great thing about photography, I think. Not only can you decide how to take your photos, you can also decide on what to take your photos with.

What photography gear do you take with you on your travels?

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